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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  TCP/IP Application Layer Protocols, Services and Applications (OSI Layers 5, 6 and 7)
      9  Name Systems and TCP/IP Name Registration and Name Resolution
           9  TCP/IP Name Systems: Host Tables and Domain Name System (DNS)
                9  TCP/IP Domain Name System (DNS)
                     9  DNS Overview, Functions and Characteristics

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DNS Overview, Functions and Characteristics
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DNS Overview, History and Standards
(Page 1 of 3)

The aversion that most people have to trying to remember numeric identifiers led to the very quick adoption of a name system for devices on the predecessors of what we now call the Internet. In the 1960s and early 1970s, names were given to machines, and these names maintained in host tables. The TCP/IP host table name system worked well for a number of years, with a centrally-maintained master list used by device administrators to ensure a consistent view of the network.

Unfortunately, such a system only works well when the number of devices is small. As the budding Internet grew, numerous weaknesses became apparent in the host table method, as I detailed in the section describing that system. Furthermore, the problems with the system weren't something that could be easily “patched” with small changes; the problems were structural, part of the basic idea of host tables as a whole. A completely new approach was needed for how names would be used on the Internet.

Early DNS Development and the Move to Hierarchical Domains

The most important “paradigm shift” made by the TCP/IP engineers was the decision to change the name system from one that used a single, centralized list of names to a more decentralized system. The idea was to create a structured topology where names were organized into domains. This idea was first introduced in the September 1981 RFC, 799, entitled Internet Name Domains.

RFC 799 actually describes more the mechanics of delivering electronic mail messages between domains than the domains themselves. Interestingly, the standard assumes a flat structure of domains in its discussion, while mentioning the possibility of creating a hierarchical structure instead. It was in fact the decision to go to such a hierarchical name space for domains that led to the creation of the Domain Name System (DNS) in the form in which we know it today.

Many different RFC documents were published in the early 1980s, describing the development of different aspects of DNS. The first real milestone in DNS's history was probably the publishing, in November 1983, of a “triplet” of initial documents discussing DNS concepts, shown in Table 162.

Table 162: Documents Discussing TCP/IP Domain Name System (DNS) Concepts

RFC Number




Domain Names Plan and Schedule

Discusses the issues involved in implementing the new DNS name system and how to migrate from the older host table system.


Domain Names: Concepts and Facilities

Describes the concepts and functional elements of DNS in fairly extensive detail. Includes a discussion of the name space, resource records, and how name servers and resolvers work.


Domain names: Implementation Specification

Provides the “nitty gritty” details on DNS messaging and operation.

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DNS Overview, Functions and Characteristics
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DNS Design Goals, Objectives and Assumptions
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